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September 2003

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Comments from several top former policymakers, and Gingrich’s rebuttal, are presented below. For more reactions and debate, visit Foreign Policy.

Debating U.S. Diplomacy

From Stuart E. Eizenstat, former U.S. under secretary of state
The State Department that Newt Gingrich describes in his diatribe (“Rogue State Department,” July/August 2003) bears no resemblance to the department I know from my service in the Clinton administration, both as a U.S. ambassador and as an under secretary of state.

Gingrich believes the State Department is led by career Foreign Service officers (FSOs) who are disloyal to the point of engaging in a “deliberate and systematic effort to undermine” the president’s foreign policy. He accuses the department of having a culture that “props up dictators, coddles the corrupt, and ignores secret police forces.” He also blames State for increased anti-Americanism because the department abdicates “values and principles in favor of accommodation and passivity.” Such distortions of reality discredit the criticism rather than its target.

Throughout my public career, I worked in or with every department of the U.S. government. Without qualification, the men and women of the State Department are the most uniformly excellent, dedicated, and hard-working civil servants I encountered. They are devoted and talented proponents of the best American values: democracy, tolerance, human rights, and free markets against dictators, corrupt officials, and negative forces around the globe. They bend over backward to follow every U.S. president’s leadership, even when they disagree with specific policies. The career staff relishes the challenge of innovation.

Gingrich fails to appreciate the State Department’s dual mandate: It must advocate U.S. foreign policy abroad as well as convey other countries’ views to the president.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his State Department have been faithful apostles of U.S. President George W. Bush’s policies. Gingrich might consider whether declining support abroad for U.S. policies belongs at the doorstep of the White House, not the State Department. It was President Bush who withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the International Criminal Court, and other international conventions, with virtually no consultation. What little international support President Bush’s Iraq policy gained came from Powell’s efforts to secure backing for U.N. weapons inspections.

The State Department’s true problems bear little relation to Gingrich’s broadside. “Clientitis” (taking on the perspectives of the countries to which FSOs are posted) is cause for concern, but that is the reason behind the mandatory three-year rotation system. FSOs are often placed in unchallenging positions early in their careers, trapped by a rigid promotion structure that can penalize them if they advance too quickly early on and then limit their long-term opportunities.

Some of Gingrich’s suggestions are on the mark. The Foreign Service is understaffed and overworked, and needs to be substantially larger. He creatively recommends assignments outside the department to broaden officers’ perspectives. The State Department also needs a modern global communication strategy, which could result if the U. S. Information Agency were better integrated within the department. Gingrich is also right to highlight the department’s ineffective organizational structure in which “regional and functional policies do not serve integrated goals.” The layering of regional bureaus, along with functional bureaus that cut across these same regional lines, leads to a slow and contorted decision-making process for the secretary of state—not to mention a badly divided building that is often unable to speak with one voice in the interagency process.

The recommendations for reform by the Hart-Rudman Commission, to which Gingrich points, have much merit. Other suggestions seem odd, though. Gingrich proposes significant financial bonuses for FSOs for language proficiency, but almost all staffers already undergo grueling language training and possess strong language capabilities for the nations in which they serve. It is the political appointees to ambassadorial posts (sometimes earned through large donations to presidential campaign coffers) who often lack the most rudimentary knowledge of the language, history, and culture of the countries to which they are posted.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s career officers risk their lives daily in some of the world’s most dangerous spots to support their president and their country. I close with two recollections. In 1995, Bob Frasure, a respected senior State Department official, stayed with me at our ambassadorial residence in Brussels only a few days before he died while trying to bring peace to Bosnia. And back in Washington, I later joined the somber delegation, led by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to receive the American flag-draped caskets of the State Department officials killed by terrorist attacks in their posts in Africa. That is the State Department I know.

From Jack F. Matlock Jr., former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union
Having spent 35 years as a Foreign Service officer working—like my colleagues—faithfully for whomever the American people elected, I know very well that the State Department “culture” Gingrich describes is nothing more than a construct of his imagination. Every U.S. president, of course, has complained about the State Department, usually in the early stages of his administration. Competent professionals have a duty to report accurately on the real world. It is, doubtless, frustrating for a new president to learn that some of the slogans he used in his campaign will not be easy to implement. Still, most have been wise enough not to shoot the messengers, and all learned in time to appreciate the value of nonpartisan, professional support.

Gingrich sees disloyalty in a leaked report (by whom? —probably not the State Department!) by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research that stated that “liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve” in Iraq and that “electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements.” He finds this view at odds with Bush’s public statement that “the Iraqi people are fully capable of self-government.” Why does an explanation that something will be difficult contradict a statement that something is possible? It is obvious now that if the report Gingrich cites had received more attention when the occupation of Iraq was planned, the United States would be in a better position to ensure the Iraqi people the opportunity to demonstrate their capacity for self-government. The author’s implication that intelligence reports should be tailored to support policy is shocking. The practice of tailoring intelligence reports to please a political leader is precisely why Soviet leaders before Mikhail Gorbachev persisted in self-defeating policies, despite all their intelligence assets.

No, Gingrich’s analysis is all wrong, though some of his concrete suggestions are helpful. No diplomatic service can sell a policy if it is a turkey. And since the secretary of state and his department are clearly doing their best to support the president, are we not justified in suspecting that Gingrich’s real target is President Bush?

From Bruce Laingen, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy; Thomas D. Boyatt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Council; and Joseph J. Sisco, chairman of the American Academy of Diplomacy
In his April 22 remarks at the American Enterprise Institute, Newt Gingrich questioned Bush’s foreign policy, Powell’s competence, and the loyalty of the State Department and Foreign Service. His recent article in Foreign Policy concentrates on the third (and softest) of these targets.

The article includes points with which we agree, in some cases wholeheartedly: a significant increase in the size of the Foreign Service (Gingrich’s recommendation of 40 percent may be high—20 percent is probably closer to the mark), assignments outside the State Department (for example, to local governments or business firms) in the 6th and 14th years of service, improving cross-cultural communication, perfecting the interagency system, and more autonomy for ambassadors. We energetically support these worthy goals.

Some of the Hart-Rudman recommendations have been implemented. For instance, Powell has initiated organizational changes that link strategic planning and resources. Other recommendations—particularly a single, integrated foreign affairs budget—would have real resonance in America’s organizations. Indeed, some of the Gingrich and Hart-Rudman proposals have been attempted in the past but always with too little money, too few people, and too much resistance from the U.S. Congress.

Gingrich’s analysis falls seriously short in two areas. First, he blurs the foreign policy process and public diplomacy, basically ignoring the former. Diplomats overseas must report to the State Department on political, economic, social, and other developments in their countries of assignment that touch upon the U.S. national interest. These officers, and particularly ambassadors, are also responsible for recommending policies they believe will serve the interests of the United States. Their Washington counterparts must synthesize the information and policy views and recommend how best to proceed. Decisions are made at various levels; the key ones flow to the secretary of state and the president. Instructions go back to ambassadors, and policy is implemented. This process is ongoing. It is also job one and should not be confused with public diplomacy, as important as that is.

Second, Gingrich veers (inadvertently, we hope) into territory that nearly puts him in the company of those who destroyed the “China Hands” in the 1940s by accusing them of “losing China,” demanded loyalty oaths in the 1950s, and supported McCarthyism in both decades. Gingrich says he wants to place the State Department “more directly under the control of the president of the United States” because the agency is engaging in a “deliberate and systematic effort to undermine Bush’s foreign policy.” The accusation is false. The world is a difficult and complicated place that does not always respond as the United States desires. Danger to the United States lurks everywhere, and the responsibility of officers at home and abroad is to offer their leaders full and frank information based upon decades of training and experience. Gingrich does not seem to understand the foreign policymaking process, and he wrongly equates different assessments with disloyalty.

Calls for “reform” should not be a front for destruction. Powell has made historic progress—resources, training, structure, and even the department’s culture are in dramatically better shape than they were just two years ago.

From Robert L. Gallucci, dean of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University
Does Gingrich’s attack on the U.S. State Department resonate with officials in the Bush administration? If so, then the openness and pluralism of the policymaking process—and thus the quality of future policy—may be at risk.

Gingrich quotes a newspaper report on a leaked classified document produced by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research on the difficulties of creating liberal democracy in Iraq. The document, he notes, is inconsistent with the president’s vision of a democratic Iraq. I suppose some might think that civil servants and Foreign Service officers ought to alter their intelligence reports and research findings to fit a president’s worldview, but I doubt they would be the “vast majority of the American people.” State Department professionals are paid to call them as they see them.

When Gingrich moves beyond his desire to politicize the department, he makes some good points—notably, about the need for the State Department to adopt a better communication strategy. But he seems not to understand the limits of his case. Good policy will indeed be weakened if it is poorly communicated; but lousy policy will not improve simply because it is communicated well. In Gingrich’s world, the problem cannot be, as some diplomats fear, that “the [Bush] administration’s arrogance or indifference to world public opinion . . . has wiped out . . . decades of effort to build goodwill toward the United States.” To Gingrich, this perspective is only evidence of a State Department “out of sync with Bush’s views and objectives.”

Most important is the extent to which Gingrich’s views reflect those held by senior officials in the Defense Department and the White House. It is no secret that the secretary of state has been out of sync with others in the Bush administration on important issues. Moreover, the administration’s national security policy has a heavier-than-usual moral tone that goes beyond the rhetorical enthusiasm that simplified complex and diverse threats into an “axis of evil.”

This tone exemplifies the administration’s disdain for negotiation and compromise with states whose regimes are reprehensible and whose actions are repugnant to American values. It leads some in the administration to argue that nothing short of regime change is appropriate for confronting these states. It makes interest in diplomatic solutions appear hollow or even cynical in light of the United States’ extraordinary capacity to project force. It undervalues one of the principal instruments of U.S. foreign policy, the one wielded by the State Department: diplomacy. And worse, it equates negotiation with appeasement and characterizes those who advocate such a course as proposing the U.S. government submit to blackmail.

If Gingrich’s argument wins out, the United States is in trouble. The range of options considered legitimate will narrow. Healthy debate will be suppressed out of a warped sense of loyalty and a misunderstanding of the role of ideology in the formation of policy. At a time when the United States is truly vulnerable, the nation cannot afford to distort the foreign policymaking process by suppressing information from the field or critical analysis at home.

From Robert D. Steele, CEO, OSS.Net
I write both to compliment and to challenge Newt Gingrich, who is among the United States’ most educated former policymakers. However, he is also among its most vicious and hypocritical. Many of the points he makes in his article are 100 percent on the money. The State Department has become a mindless messenger for U.S. policymakers and is seen as toilet paper for the United Nations and other countries. Gingrich’s proposals for reform are important.

I cannot, however, let him escape without comment on the following two sentences: “Key to transforming the State Department’s culture is the adoption of the right vision—President Bush’s vision. We can no longer accept a culture that props up dictators, coddles the corrupt, and ignores secret police forces.” Heavens! Does he mean Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Or perhaps the Muslim khanates of Central Asia?

The State Department—for which I worked as a Foreign Service reserve officer in three embassies—is dying from two chest wounds. First, the department is burdened with a moribund bureaucracy and a culture that is impoverished in both financial and educational terms. Diplomats are outnumbered by administrative and support staff in their own embassies and they generally are not versed in historical, cultural, or linguistic knowledge appropriate to the specific country to which they are posted. This problem can be fixed by focusing on education and information rather than military procurement, and by adopting open-source intelligence collection and analysis. Such reforms would rationalize the national security budget, which will be $500 billion per year by 2009, and resurrect U.S. diplomacy.

The second wound, one that Gingrich must think makes him ripe to replace Colin Powell when the latter comes to his senses and escapes his indenture to the Bush team, is inflicted from above. If President Bush has a global strategy, it is somewhere between evangelical fiction and a comic book. This administration is disconnected from reality. It has started a six-front world war that will last 100 years, instead of winning the war on terrorism, which could have been resolved with six years of smart spending of no more than $100 billion per year.

The State Department requires reform, but much more important—and an area where Gingrich might do great service—is the urgently needed internationalization of education, both of U.S. presidents and of the public. As Thomas Jefferson said, “[a] Nation’s best defense is an educated citizenry.” Right now, the United States is defenseless.

From Louise K. Crane, former acting president of the American Foreign Service Association
For more than 75 years, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) has served as the professional association of U.S. Foreign Service employees. Because the work of the Foreign Service is so vital to the citizens of the United States, the association welcomes thoughtful critiques of its role and responsibilities. However, the article on the State Department by Gingrich only reinforces his image as a slash-and-burn politician and contributes nothing useful to the debate on U.S. foreign policy or on the foreign policy establishment.

Gingrich argues that the president of the United States should more directly control the U.S. State Department. This argument presumes that the person whom the president chooses to run the department, the secretary of state, is rendered incapable of asserting authority over a rogue Foreign Service upon entering the department’s lobby. The view also assumes past secretaries of state such as George Shultz and James Baker were unable to execute the foreign policies of U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Yet not one of them makes such a claim in his memoirs.

Gingrich cites a recent internal State Department memo on the bleak prospects for democracy in Iraq as proof of his earlier McCarthyite charge that department employees are engaged in a “deliberate and systematic effort to undermine Bush’s foreign policy.” It should be obvious to Gingrich that the analysis was offered to inform policy, not to set it.

Gingrich claims he wants a corps of trained and linguistically skilled diplomats, but they do not appear to be in his personnel plan. He seems to prefer an organization that is replaced in its entirety each time a new administration comes to power. Such an approach wouldn’t do much for continuity in U.S. foreign policy.

However, that approach would certainly satisfy Gingrich’s demand for employees who do not speak up, but simply nod vigorously. AFSA applauds Gingrich’s arguments for a Foreign Service that is more multilingual, better trained, and more knowledgeable about the work of nongovernmental organizations and the private sector. However, AFSA laments that his epiphany has come so late. Had the scales been lifted from his eyes while Gingrich was still the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, he might have used his influence to restore funding to a starving State Department, which at one point in the mid-1990s could not even replace retiring Foreign Service employees. Some 700 positions in critical countries could not be filled because there were simply too few employees available. Language classes and other training were deferred to prevent more positions from going unfilled.

The Bush administration has dramatically reversed this situation. The Foreign Service is being fundamentally transformed—much along the lines Gingrich suggests—by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Newt Gingrich Replies:
After reading the news coverage of my April 22 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, where I first raised my concerns about the State Department, I saw clearly that the news media, in typical Washington fashion, was not interested in covering an informative discussion about reforming the State Department, but rather wanted to create a personality clash between myself and Secretary of State Colin Powell where one does not exist. So I decided to share my ideas with the readers of Foreign Policy.

I certainly was encouraged that there was much agreement in the letters in response to my article “Rogue State Department” (a title created not by me but by the editors, and about which I protested as I did the subtitle in the sidebar, “Foreign Disservice,” but to no avail) with respect to the need for reforms in the State Department.

I have but a few clarifications. First, Stuart Eizenstat writes, “Gingrich fails to appreciate the State Department’s dual mandate: It must advocate U.S. foreign policy abroad as well as convey other countries’ views to the president.” I do not believe a dual mandate should exist at the department. I want to make a distinction between representing another country’s views and accurately reporting those views. The State Department should represent only the United States and our values to the world. Our strategy must be to communicate those values effectively. Where the values of other nations conflict with our own interests and values, we should make the conflict clear so that we are predictable to other countries, so they know where we stand. The State Department should never act on behalf of any other country’s interests where they do not coincide with our own.

Eizenstat goes on to say, “It was President Bush who withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the International Criminal Court, and other international conventions, with virtually no consultation. What little international support President Bush’s Iraq policy gained came from Powell’s efforts to secure backing for U.N. weapons inspections.” He is perfectly within his right as a former U.S. undersecretary of state to disagree with the president. I, on the other hand, agree with the president on all of these issues. Perhaps that is why Eizenstat believes in the existence of a dual mandate.

Jack F. Matlock suggests that Bush is my real target. I have consistently supported the president and his stated objectives and cited examples in my article.

Several letters claimed that I accused the Foreign Service of disloyalty. This charge is simply groundless. I do not believe Foreign Service officers are any less courageous or patriotic than those who serve in U.S. military or intelligence services. In fact, I called for a 40 percent increase in Foreign Service personnel.

What strikes me is that no one claimed I was accusing the U.S. military of being disloyal when I joined with my colleagues Sam Nunn, Dick Cheney, Gary Hart, Bill Whitehurst, and others to begin transforming the Defense Department and create the Military Reform Caucus. In 1986, after five years of arguing with bureaucrats and dealing with fierce opposition by senior members of the military, we passed the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act. Despite ongoing military reforms, no one argues that joint operations and transformation have not worked or did not work in Iraq or Afghanistan or that those who advocated change were attacking the administration. No such comprehensive reform has taken place in the State Department.

I believe that in order to have an effective instrument of diplomacy to meet our security needs and the realities of the 21st century, we must have the courage to transform the State Department. Trying to obfuscate problems by defending popular figures who are not under attack will only dangerously prolong badly needed reforms.

Reproduced with permission from FOREIGN POLICY #138 (September/October 2003), www.foreignpolicy.com, Copyright 2003, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The phase III report of the Hart-Rudman Commission, “Road Map for National Security: Imperative for Change” [PDF] (Washington: U.S. Commission for National Security/21st Century, 2001), which includes recommended reforms of the U.S. State Department, is available on the commission’s Web site. See “Secretary Colin Powell’s State Department: An Independent Assessment” (Washington: Foreign Affairs Council, 2003) for an examination of Powell’s first two years in office, available on the American Diplomacy Web site. For international perspectives on the current secretary of state, see the special essay collection “The Secretary at Midterm” (Foreign Service Journal, March 2003).

Newt Gingrich’s controversial speech “Transforming the State Department” (April 22, 2003) can be found on the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute. Coverage and commentary on the speech’s aftermath includes “Familiar Blast, Then Unfamiliar Silence” (Washington Post, April 26, 2003) by Edward Walsh and Juliet Eilperin, “Gingrich Takes Swipe at State Department” (USA Today, April 22, 2003) by Barbara Slavin, and “Mideast Road Trap” (Washington Times, May 6, 2003) by Frank J. Gaffney Jr. For an early call for comprehensive reforms, see Laurence H. Silberman’s “Toward Presidential Control of the State Department” (Foreign Affairs, Spring 1979). For a worm’s-eye view of life in the State Department, see “Too at Home Abroad” (The Washington Monthly, September 1991) by a Foreign Service officer writing under the pseudonym of Harry Crosby.

Strobe Talbott offers an alternative view of how the State Department should adapt to new global realities in “Globalization and Diplomacy: A Practitioner’s Perspective” (Foreign Policy, Fall 1997). For an example of a call for large-scale reforms in another U.S. cabinet department, see then presidential candidate George W. Bush’s speech on Defense Department reform, “A Period of Consequences” (September 23, 1999), delivered at the Citadel.

For perspectives on how the United States and other Western nations should transform their global communication efforts, see Mark Leonard’s “Diplomacy by Other Means” (Foreign Policy, September/October 2002). Also visit the Public Diplomacy Web site, sponsored by the United States Information Agency Alumni Association and the Public Diplomacy Council.

For links to relevant Web sites, access to the FP Archive, and a comprehensive index of related Foreign Policy articles, go to or the archival section of this website at www.americandiplomacy.org.

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